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Classical Music Rising: Does It Go Far Enough?

A new year, and some new things happening in the classical music radio world.  Probably no news is bigger than SRG’s (Station Resource Group) announcement of a new task force to address the concerns that classical music broadcasters face going into the future.  This message appeared in my email inbox just yesterday:

We are delighted to start the New Year with news that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $400,000 to support SRG’s Classical Music Rising, a collaborative project to shape the future of classical music radio. Five founding stations have committed a total of $100,000 in additional funds.

We would like your help in finding the right person to head the effort as Project Director.

First, about the project. This two-year initiative, led by the Station Resource Group, is focused on next generation strategies for classical music radio as the field confronts evolution in delivery across multiple broadcast and digital platforms, powerful demographic and cultural change, and significant disruption throughout the music industry. The work will center on strategy, innovative tactics, and collective action – all informed by ongoing research and analysis.

Classical Music Rising priorities have emerged from extensive consultation with executives and programmers at dozens of stations that offer classical programming. At the top of the list are:

*        Revenue and business models for the next generation of service

*        Understanding classical music radio’s 21st century audiences

*        Digital experimentation

*        Talent development

*        Awareness and engagement

A full description of the project is available at http://www.srg.org/ClassicalMusicRisingDescriptionDec2015.pdf

Second, the Project Director. This is a genuine leadership role. We are aiming toward a person working on a consulting basis, at about a three-quarters time effort. We are eager to get moving and the first application  review will be January 19. The position posting is available at http://www.srg.org/ClassicalMusicRisingProjectDirectorPosting.pdf If you know someone for whom this would be a good fit, please alert them – or us.

Sounds great, right?  It also sounds much more extensive than the PRPD classical core values survey from eight years ago, which focused mainly on sound and music selection and not as much on the complete package (outreach, development, digital services, et cetera).  You can read a more thorough description of the project at the links above to see more about how SRG wants to put this $500,000 to use.

I think there are a few things missing, however.  Perhaps they are implicit, but I think they should be more explicit goals in this endeavor.  Probably the biggest thing, for me, is that we are so focused on keeping track of the pulse of our audience that we forget to look at ourselves as broadcasters.  I don’t think any effort has been made, other than the occasional CPB salary survey, to take a deep look at how stations operate and WHO is operating them.  I’m particularly interested in how long employees have worked at their stations, how their roles have or haven’t evolved over their tenures, and the diversity of station staff – particularly the on-air voices (how many women?  how many men?  how many minorities?  how old?).   We need to know more about ourselves before we can evolve as a broadcasting community.  Talent development is a part of this project, but along with talent development there needs to be a recognition that as a community, we are (with the exception of me and a few others) a group largely composed of older white folks who are, more likely than not, to men.  It’ll be tough to recruit and develop talent in that kind of environment, especially because the vast majority of the music we present was written by a bunch of dead white dudes.

I would also advocate for an open search for the project director.  To SRG’s credit, they emphasize that they are committed to an “open, yet speedy” search.  Yet this statement from the project description gives me pause: “SRG and Steering Committee members have discussed a short list of candidates who are qualified for the position, likely to be available, and, in some cases, have volunteered an interest.”  It’s natural, of course, in any job search, for members of the hiring committee to have certain people in mind.  But in a position like this, which requires a substantial commitment, it seems geared toward someone who has very flexible hours at their “day job” (not terribly likely), or, more likely, someone who is either out of work or has either left the broadcasting industry due to a career change or retirement.  I can think of three or four people right off the top of my head who fit that description.  While they are no doubt qualified based on their experience, I am not sure that choosing someone whose working years are mainly behind them sends the right message about the nature of this project.  It seems to me that whoever leads this project, in conjunction with the co-CEOs of SRG and the project’s steering committee, should be an active stakeholder in the outcome, rather than someone who can simply walk away when the job is done.

In any event, we will see how this proceeds.  I think, overall, this project is necessary and, so far, very well-conceived.

2 Responses to Classical Music Rising: Does It Go Far Enough?

  1. Jack Allen September 14, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

    Hey Joe, I hope you are attending the PRPD in Phoenix. An interesting presentation is being held on Wednesday:

    10:45am – 11:45am
    Classical Radio Marketing & Branding

    Is it worth investing precious dollars in a marketing campaign? Hear from stations leaders who have launched campaigns that are building audiences and boosting ratings. This session provides examples of what’s working outdoors and online, and explores the power of clear branding and positioning.

    Moderator
    Wende Persons
    Managing Director
    Classical Music Rising

    Jack Allen
    All Classical Portland
    Frank Dominguez
    WDAV/Charlotte

    Daniel Gilliam
    WUOL/Louisville
    Bill Lueth
    President
    KDFC

    Scott Williams
    KBAQ/Phoenix

    I love your comment above, “…we forget to look at ourselves as broadcasters. I don’t think any effort has been made, other than the occasional CPB salary survey, to take a deep look at how stations operate and WHO is operating them.”

    Precisely! I will attempt to shine a light on this a bit as we discuss branding.

    Best,

    -Jack

    • Joe Goetz September 14, 2016 at 8:44 pm #

      Yes, I’ll be there. I know most of the others on the panel but haven’t met you yet, looking forward to it!

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